Shelf Awareness for Friday, May 7, 2010

Atheneum Books: Bulldozer's Christmas Dig by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

St. Martin's Press: The Christie Affair by Nina De Gramont

Soho Crime: My Annihilation by Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Sam Bett

Candlewick Press: Hello, Little Fish!: A Mirror Book by Lucy Cousins

Merriam-Webster Kids: Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day: 366 Elevating Utterances to Stretch Your Cranium and Tickle Your Humerus by Merriam-Webster

Other Press: Lemon by Yeo-Sun Kwon, translated by Janet Hong

Ballantine Books: The Maid by Nita Prose


General Retail Sales: Slight Gain in April a 'Speed Bump'

General retailers reported softer sales for April, "a fresh sign that recovery in consumer spending remains gradual and uneven," according to the Wall Street Journal, which described the lackluster performance as a "speed bump." Thomson Reuters estimated sales at stores open at least a year rose 0.5%, notably less than the 1.7% gain that had been expected.

One of the factors cited as contributing to the sluggish performance was an early Easter, which resulted in March holiday buying. April's results suggest "retailers are just doing a bit better than they did than in bad economic times," said Stephen Hoch, professor of marketing at the Wharton School. "The consumer is still being cautious."

John Morris, retail analyst at BMO Capital Markets, observed that recession recovery for retailers "is not likely to be linear. Consumers are not always that predictable, so we're not expecting a completely smooth path back."

Despite concerns about the pace of recovery, the New York Times reported that "several analysts said the April deceleration was not a cause for concern. With Easter occurring a week earlier this year, retailers knew that consumers would shop more in March than in April. Such calendar shifts are why retailing professionals like to look at the months of March and April combined when evaluating the health of the spring shopping season."

Jharonne Martis, director of consumer research for Thomson Reuters, said, "It’s not fair to just look at one without the other. An educated investor would look at them both combined and say 'Consumers are spending.' "

Thomson Reuters noted that combined March/April figures showed "an increase in same-store sales of about 4.8%--stronger than both January’s and February’s results of 3.3% and 4% respectively, suggesting 'strong momentum' in consumer spending," the Times wrote. 


House of Anansi Press: Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling by Esi Edugyan

Notes: Burkle Sues B&N; Amazon's 'Major Unfair Advantage'

Ron Burkle's Yucaipa American Management filed suit in Delaware Chancery Court Wednesday, alleging that Barnes & Noble and its directors "breached its fiduciary duty by upholding a 'discriminatory' poison pill provision that would prevent the company from being sold," Reuters reported, citing documents filed yesterday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, "said the pill entrenches Chairman Leonard Riggio, who founded the company in 1965, and the incumbent directors in a 'self-dealing scheme,' and prevents other shareholders from buying the same level of voting power as the Riggio family," Reuters wrote. Yucaipa also called B&N's corporate governance policies "deficient."

B&N's board responded by dubbing the lawsuit "meritless" and claimed Burkle filed it to "advance his own self-serving agenda." The board also said it "intends to submit the rights plan for shareholder ratification within 12 months of adoption," Reuters noted.


After running a column earlier this week exploring what Amazon claims are First Amendment issues raised by North Carolina's request for resident-buyers' names and the amounts they spent with the e-tailer, the New York Times in an editorial wrote that "this case is not really about privacy and free speech. It's about how far Amazon is willing to go to protect a business model that relies on not collecting sales tax. Noncollection gives Amazon a major unfair advantage over rival retailers that do collect sales tax and deprives hard-pressed states of much-needed revenue."


Jeff Bezos, Amazon's chairman and CEO, sold two million shares of his company May 3-5, netting approximately $267 million. The Puget Sound Business Journal, which based its report on a filing Wednesday with the SEC, noted that "Bezos is still a big owner of Amazon, holding 90,158,027 shares of the company."


More on the flooding in Tennessee:

Mary Grey James, a principal at the East/West Literary Agency and v-p, president-elect of the Women's National Book Association whose offices are in Nashville, reported that the Barnes & Noble at the Opry Mills mall next to the Grand Ole Opry and Opryland Hotel is "a total lost." Several other stores have had temporary disruptions: Cokesbury Bookstore in Nashville was open all week but the shipping department had to delay shipments for 48 hours, and Bookman/Bookwoman in Hillsborough Village in Nashville closed on Sunday but was undamaged.

No word yet on the Davis-Kidd bookstore or Borders.


Phil's Fire Fund has been created at On Point Credit Union to assist Phil Wikelund with clean-up and repairs of the Great Northwest Bookstore, Portland, Ore., which was destroyed by fire this week (Shelf Awareness, May 3, 2010). The Oregonian reported that the Portland Area Used Booksellers Association is contributing, and donations will also be collected at the Rose City Used Book Fair in June.


Are customer membership programs a financially rewarding way to build community relationships? Bookselling This Week examined the loyalty programs at Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C, and Capitola Book Café, Capitola, Calif.

"You can be very creative about what you offer and cater to your own community," said Capitola's general manager Wendy Mayer-Lochtefeld, who also advised booksellers considering such a program to "ask yourself why you're doing it."


Partnerships with local radio and television stations are another way for booksellers to raise their profile and reach out to customers. Libby Manthey of Riverwalk Books, Chelan, Wash., and Nancy Olson of Quail Ridge Books & Music, Raleigh, N.C. spoke with Bookselling This Week about their media strategies.

"I highly recommend bookstores affiliating with major media in the area," said Olson. "People watch TV!"

Manthey, a twice-monthly guest on Another Story, a radio segment on KOZI FM, said, "I have had more locals coming into the store since I started the radio show. Many people are spending time browsing. We have made shelf-talkers indicating the books that are featured on the show. We are fine-tuning the in-store promo of the show, electronic promo, and website promo. We are still working on the podcasts being available on our website and not just KOZI's. We are small town, and KOZI is small town social media."


Borders Australia online has declared a price war against, guaranteeing to beat Amazon's prices and signaling "a new era in the way Australian booksellers compete in the global online market," according to the Sydney Morning Herald, which noted that REDgroup Retail, owner of Borders Australia, "is willing to back up this promise with the guarantee that if a customer finds a book cheaper on, including purchasing and freight costs, then Borders Australia will refund the difference plus 10%."


Cool idea of the day: For the past year, Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, N.J., has regularly hosted "Writing Matters," panel discussions for aspiring writers that attract standing-room-only crowds. The project was the brainchild of suspense author Jenny Milchman, who proposed the idea to bookseller Marina Cramer.

"We instantly knew there was a place for it," Milchman told the Montclair Times, which reported that with "her knack for titles, Cramer gave the series its name, and the two organizers brainstormed ideas. Topics so far have included humor, food writing, publishing short fiction online, and whether writing can be taught."

"Book publishing is in transition. We don't know how it's going to shake out," Cramer said. "There are opportunities in self-publishing and print-on-demand and Internet publishing that weren't there before. But we don't know how it's going to affect bookstores. That's one of the reasons we're finding such an enthusiastic response: there are new opportunities, and people have questions about them."

"Getting involved with the independents is a way to build readership," Milchman added.


PC World's Jared Newman offered a feature wish list for Google Editions, the new e-book store scheduled to launch this summer (Shelf Awareness, May 5, 2010). His suggestions include a book-sharing option, a used book marketplace, an attractive interface, "sweet mobile Web apps" and digital storefronts that allow indie bookstores "the ability to interact with their online customers through live recommendations by chat or VoIP and news feeds of what's happening at the physical store. Otherwise, the storefront is just a limited selection of what you could get at Google's mothership."


An early peek at Amazon's Kindle 2.5, "an updated version of its Kindle firmware that brings more integration with the rest of the world by adding social networking support and the ability to see the most popular highlights in the book you're reading," was offered by Ars Technica.


Ten years ago, a library in Almere, the Netherlands, undertook a radical transformation inspired by "how retail stores appeal to their customers. The shops provided inspiration for ways to organize the new library into zones, new ideas for displaying books to make them more browsing friendly, and the creation of displays targeted towards their frequent visitors," reported. You can see photos of the stylish bibliotheek redesign here.

Internet Archive plans to scan thousands of books into its digital database to more than double the number of titles available for visually impaired readers, the Huffington Post reported.

"We'll offer current novels, educational books, anything," said Brewster Kahle, the organization's founder. "If somebody then donates a book to the archive, we can digitize it and add it to the collection.... Publishers mostly concentrate on their newest, profitable books. We are working to get all books online."


At Other Press:

Paul Kozlowski, formerly director of sales and marketing, has been named associate publisher.
Corinna Barsan has been promoted from editor to senior editor.
Katie Henderson has been promoted from associate editor to editor.


Effective July 1, Continuum International Publishing will move its customer service and distribution functions to National Book Network's distribution facility in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. Continuum will continue to maintain its independent sales, marketing and editorial offices in New York City.

Continuum publishes some 600 books each year and has a backlist of 7,000 titles, primarily in the humanities, education and religion. Its smaller trade list includes books devoted to popular culture and the media.

GLOW: Clarion Books: The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman

Making Information Pay: One-Way Trips?

Points of no return was the theme at yesterday's Making Information Pay conference, sponsored by the Book Industry Study Group, in New York City.

Organizer and first speaker Mike Shatzkin, CEO of the Idea Logical Company, set the stage for the discussion, predicting growth in e-book sales to 25% of all new "straight-text, narrative books" in two and a half years, at which point total online sales for those books will exceed sales in bricks-and-mortar outlets. "Half of sales of new narrative books will be online," he said. "This is a big effing deal, as our Vice President would say."

That "point of no return" will come in 2012--appropriately, when the Mayan calendar ceases, a sign of the end of the world, many people say--leading to a somewhat grim scenario, as Shatzkin outlined it:

The traditional publishing business will have to "shrink fast." Mergers among major publishers may take place. Big houses may reshuffle lists, so that one house would get out of romance and another out of science fiction.

Bookstores and publishers "will be threatened with disintermediation."

Bricks-and-mortar stores will continue to close and will "not be coming back." ("So far the reduction of bookstore shelf space has been a slow drip," Shatzkin commented. "None of the three big chains has closed a lot of stores. It's hard to see how this good fortune for publishers will continue.")

Publishers that have survived in a world "where their control of shelf space in stores is the biggest competitive advantage" will have an infrastructure that is "increasingly seen as an albatross."

A new publishing model of publishing titles first as e-books and then on a POD basis will become "more sensible."

As e-books come to account for a quarter of publishers' sales, the quality of e-books will become more important.

As prices go down and royalties rise in the e-book world, traditional publishers will do marketing for only big books or books about certain subjects key to the publisher, but by 2012, for marketing, "authors will be on their own."


Kelly Gallagher, v-p of publishing services at Bowker, pulled the discussion back to less scary ground by reiterating a theme from last year: when it comes to books, the average reader--a 45-year-old woman--"wants what she wants where she wants it and when she wants it and doesn't care how" publishers do it.

Publishers and other need to understand the consumer and understand customers' proliferation of choice and access to content, Gallagher said. "We had a 6,000-year run at the supply chain. But that's over." Now the "consumer queen" drives the process. "We are living in a 24/7/365 world."

Gallagher cited survey findings showing that a shift toward e-books continues and that e-book buyers are buying fewer printed books. Among other significant changes: social media continues to attract a range of readers--69% of book buyers engage in some kind of social networking--and book buying influences come increasingly online.


George Lossius, CEO of Publishing Technology, offered a British perspective on e-devices, noting that cell phones are "moving quicker everywhere else in the world" outside the U.S. He said that on a trip before the conference from Cambridge, Mass., to New York, he had seen more e-readers than "in Europe at all." He called e-readers "a defensive strategy" that replicates "existing revenues." By contrast, cell phones and products from Apple, for example, provide "wonderful opportunities to enrich content."


Bruce Shaw, president and publisher, and Adam Salomone, director of digital initiatives, at Harvard Common Press, discussed how the cooking and parenting publisher has begun moving into the digital future during the past several years. "I have seen more change in the last year in publishing than I did in the previous 29," Shaw said.

During his first 28 years at the helm of Harvard Common Press, Shaw said, "we were a traditional publisher. We produced very good books." Now the press is doing some e-books and digital publishing, and "we're thinking beyond that."

As Shaw described it, the process has been gradual. "We're still thinking about digital in an old-fashioned way," he said. "It's not a dramatically changing process. Still 97% of our sales are of books."

Harvard Common Press has been partnering with some online companies. One example is BabyCD, which has excerpts from books and where consumers can link to the company's website to buy books there.

The company is also talking with Yummly, which has 350,000 recipes online. "We're talking about using their platform to sell recipes," Salomone said. "It's radically different from putting recipes in a book and selling that."

Shaw predicted that the company "will sell fewer and fewer copies of books," and that digital and e-books will make up for that "in part. We have to protect ourselves by going online."


Matt Baldacci, v-p and associate publisher of St. Martin's Press, said that for some St. Martin's titles, e-book sales account for 30% of the book's sales, and across Macmillan e-books are 10% of sales.

As a result, he has been able to change the emphasis of marketing so that much more of it is online. (He noted that marketing principles nonetheless remain the same: price, promotion, product, placement.)

He illustrated the change by noting that in the past Jackie Collins's titles were launched with a Good Morning America appearance, print ads, display dumps, TV ads and major discounting. By contrast, her latest title was promoted via a tour, online ads, social networking promotions and print ads.

Baldacci stressed that market and consumer research has changed. "Twenty years ago there wasn't much available and we didn't use it well," he said. Now the company has begun targeting material to people predisposed or interested in a subject or author.

As e-books become more prevalent, too, "reviewers and consumers will demand more from us," Baldacci continued. For example, e-books will have to have indexes with hyperlinks. "In two years the most powerful reviewer will be a blogger who calls us on bad e-book formatting."--John Mutter

Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association: We're throwing a bookselling party and you're invited!

BEA Previews: People Who Need People

So far, the biggest celebrity at BookExpo America will be Barbra Streisand, who will give the Opening Night Keynote in the Special Events Hall at the Javits Center at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. This will be her first appearance on behalf of her book, My Passion for Design, which focuses on the architecture and construction of her newest homes and which Viking is publishing November 16. Anyone with a BEA badge will be admitted to the event. Seating is limited and entry is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and author of Helping Hand Books: Emily's First Day at School (Sterling), is master of ceremonies at the Children's Book & Author Breakfast on Wednesday, May 26, 8-9:30 a.m., which will also be held at the Special Events Hall.

Thursday morning from 8-9:30 a.m., the Daily Show's Jon Stewart is master of ceremonies at the Book & Author Breakfast. His new book, written with show writers, is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race (Grand Central).

One of the authors at that breakfast is former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose new book is Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family (Crown).

Berkley Books: 30 Things I Love about Myself by Radhika Sanghani

Image of the Day: The Show Went On

Despite flooding in the area, the show went on for the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, which held its Executive Leadership Summit in Nashville this past Monday through Wednesday. One of the keynote speakers was Ingram Content Group CEO Skip Prichard, who rowed over and addressed the subject of "Reinventing Your Company for the Future." He said, in part, "Publishers need to move from defense to offense and focus on true cross-media publishing opportunities to create the next generation of e-books. If experience has taught us anything, we know that 'e' as we know it today will be dead in five years--replaced by something newer and better." Here: Prichard (r.) with ECPA president and CEO Mark Kuyper.




Artemesia Publishing, LLC: The Last Professional by Ed Davis, illustrated by Colin Elgie

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Sarah Silverman Talks with Bill Maher

Tonight on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher: Sarah Silverman, author of The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee (Harper, $25.99, 9780061856433/0061856436).


Sunday on Dateline: Tara Parker-Pope, author of For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage (Dutton, $25.95, 9780525951384/0525951385).


Sterling: Dracula: Deluxe Edition by Bram Stoker, illustrated by Edward Gorey

Television: Reading List for TV Addicts

If you like Lost, you should read Stephen King's The Stand; but if you like Project Runway, the book for you is House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder, and Survival by Deborah Ball. The Mercury News staff offered book suggestions for "those feeling conflicted about all that time in front of the tube, or for those who want more of a good thing, here's a way to nourish your intellect and your obsession at the same time. Expand your horizons--pick up a book that takes you to a world that is just like your favorite TV show."

Movies: Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness (Precious) will produce Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, based on the children's book series by Megan McDonald, who worked on a screen adaptation with Kathy Waugh. Variety reported that John Schultz (Aliens in the Attic) will direct and filming is scheduled to begin this August in Los Angeles.

"Megan McDonald's books are really smart and funny. More than anything, they remind me of Charlie Brown and  Peanuts," Schultz said. The producers are hoping to create a franchise. 


Books & Authors

Awards: CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger

Val McDermid has been presented with this year's Crime Writers’ Association's Cartier Diamond Dagger Award, honoring outstanding achievement in the field of crime writing.

"The CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger award acknowledges the work of an author who has made an outstanding contribution to the genre," said Margaret Murphy, former chair of the CWA. "Val McDermid is a worthy winner whose work has entertained and thrilled millions of readers as well as many more who have enjoyed the TV adaptations her books have inspired."


GBO's May Pick: Broken Glass Park

The German Book Office pick for May is Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky, translated by Tim Mohr (Europa Editions, $15, 9781933372969/1933372966).

The GBO described the book this way: "The heroine of this engrossing and thoroughly contemporary novel is 17-year-old Sascha Naimann. Sascha was born in Moscow, but now lives in Berlin with her two younger siblings and, until recently, her mother. She is precocious, independent, street-wise, and, since her stepfather murdered her mother several months ago, an orphan. Unlike most of her companions, she doesn't dream of escaping from the tough housing project where they live. Sascha's dreams are different: she longs to write a novel about her beautiful but naïve mother and she wants to end the life of Vadim, the man who brutally murdered her. Sascha's story, as touching as any in recent literature, is that of a young woman consumed by two competing impulses, one celebrative and redemptive, the other murderous. In a voice that is candid and self-confident, at times childlike and at others all too mature, Sascha relates the universal and timeless struggle between those forces that can destroy us, and those that lead us back from sorrow and pain to life itself."

Alina Bronsky, a pseudonym, was born in Ekaterinburg, Russia, in 1978 and now lives in Frankfurt. Broken Glass Park, her first novel, was nominated for the Bachmann Prize. Mohr, who has been a club DJ in Berlin and a staff editor at Playboy magazine, is at work on a history of the punk music scene in East Germany.


Book Brahmin: Thomas Chatterton Williams

Thomas Chatterton Williams holds a B.A. in philosophy from Georgetown University and an M.A. from the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University. In 2007, he wrote an op-ed piece entitled "Black Culture Beyond Hip-Hop" for the Washington Post that generated a huge response. He writes for the literary magazine n+1 and lives in Brooklyn. His first book is Losing My Cool: How a Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture (The Penguin Press, May 3, 2010).

On your nightstand now:

In a stack on my nightstand as I write (from top to bottom, in size order): Philosophy in the Boudoir by the Marquis de Sade; two very old and beat-up copies of Jorge Luis Borges's short-lived magazine, Sur, which I picked up at an antiques shop in Buenos Aires; and the Momofuko cookbook by David Chang and Peter Meehan, which I feel would look way too pretentious in the kitchen.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I think I'm going to have to go with Matilda by Roald Dahl. There was a moment in grade school when this was all the rage and I read it three or four times.

Your top five authors:

Wow, this is hard. I have to cheat a little and ask that you indulge me in a top five for fiction, as well as a separate top five for nonfiction, because the two forms are not always commensurate.

Fiction: Jorge Luis Borges, Roberto Bolaño, Ralph Ellison, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy.

Nonfiction: James Baldwin, Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, Jorge Luis Borges, Friedrich Nietzsche.

Book you've faked reading:

There are so many! The one that immediately comes to mind is Proust's In Search of Lost Time. I never made it out of Jeunes Filles en Fleur. But it took Virginia Woolf 11 years to finish the whole thing, so I've still got five years left.
Book you're an evangelist for:

I am a straight-up very annoying Roberto Bolaño proselytizer, particularly for The Savage Detectives, but really for anything he's ever written, even the poetry. The man was incapable of writing uninteresting sentences. If you have never read Bolaño, you need him in your life.

Book you've bought for the cover:

There are many. Design really matters to me. The one I have in front of me right now is the hardcover Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace, published by Knopf. I already had three or four editions of the book, but this one is gorgeous and impossible to pass up.
Book(s) that changed your life:

There was a book and a short story, so I'll give a two-part answer.

As a child, my father used to always give me clipped articles, poems and short stories to read, and then we'd discuss them. (Actually, now that I think about it, he still does this with me as an adult!) Once he gave me a Xeroxed copy of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." The story is a kind of allegory about the dangers of following blind tradition and groupthink. It's powerful. I've read this story many times in my life, but even as a little kid it made a tremendous impression on me.

Without a doubt, the book that most affected me in college was Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. The "Grand Inquisitor" passage alone remains one of the most significant things I've ever encountered.
Favorite line from a book:

"Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot." That's from Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote, and it is so true.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Collected Fictions, Jorge Luis Borges. This, for me, is reading at its most pleasurable. I have two copies of the book now. Traveling back from Argentina, a bottle of Malbec got crushed in my duffle bag and spilled all over my original copy. I thought this was fitting, but bought another because I reread these stories constantly.

What five authors, dead or alive, would you most like to have a beer with?

Well, they're all dead: Plato, Aristotle, David Foster Wallace, James Baldwin, Vladimir Nabokov.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: BookExpo 2010--Woooooooo-hooooooo!

In the annals of great opening lines, I reserve a place of honor for Ali Smith's novel Hotel World, which begins with the frenzied description of a chambermaid's fatal plunge down a dumbwaiter shaft:

Woooooooo-hooooooo what a fall what a soar what a plummet what a dash into dark into light what a plunge what a glide thud crash what a drop what a rush what a swoop what a fright what a mad hushed skirl what a smash mush mash-up broke and gashed what a heart in my mouth what an end.

On bad days, the book business can feel that way. Maybe on good days, too. As the countdown to BookExpo America 2010 continues, focus inevitably turns to the future of the book trade. Not that this isn't a daily obsession for most of us, but something about the gathering of the clan engenders heightened awareness, stoked by ABA's Day of Education and the 'Big Ideas at BEA' Conference, as well as serial conversations everywhere we turn during the convention.

I'll be on the lookout for indie booksellers at BEA. I used to be one of them. No, in many ways I'm still one of them. Former booksellers just don't fade away.

In fact, a couple months ago, someone pointed out this customer's post on the Northshire Bookstore's Facebook page: "The first time I ever read a book recommended by a stranger was when I saw 'Bob's' review of The English Patient on one of your blue index cards. This was before the movie came out and before I'd ever heard of the book. To this day I have no idea who Bob is, but I bought the book on the spot, and have read it three times with great affection, admiration, and love. It's almost time for me to read it again. Thank you, Bob, wherever you are!"

Well, here I am, though I like the fact that she didn't know me and associated her experience with the Northshire, which is more valuable long term for her and the bookshop.

At BEA, indie booksellers will face the usual scrutiny about their future viability. It's all too familiar now after years of retail death knells for bricks-and-mortar operations, yet still resistible, we hope. 

The past and the future are always having a conversation of their own at BEA, though it's been going on for a long time. In A History of the Book in America, Vol. 4, James L. West III observed that O.H. Cheney, in his Economic Survey of the Book Industry, 1930–1931, "was particularly acidulous about whimsical, hunch-based publishing, calling it 'I-shot-an-arrow-in-the-air' approach. He described distribution in the United States as haphazard, citing inconsistent discount and return policies as damaging to both booksellers and publishers. Cheney called for more research on consumer tastes and greater efforts to cultivate dependable markets. He also advocated better record keeping and tighter control of cash flow. Publishers, said Cheney, needed to leave their New York offices more frequently to visit distributors and customers, talking with them and learning about their preferences and needs. Released at the beginning of the Great Depression, the study found receptive listeners in the book world, persons willing to experiment with new distribution methods, aim for broader markets, and pay more attention to consumers."

Cheney was neither the first nor last critic of the book trade. As has always been the case, he was particularly disappointed with the industry's "ineffective distribution system." Naturally, booksellers had to take their punches.

Like other analysts of the industry at the time, Cheney believed "independent bookshops alone were not sufficient for the task," West writes. "There were too few of them, and they were often one-horse operations, poorly capitalized, and understocked. These bookshops depended on best-selling novels to attract patrons and were vulnerable to competition from other book outlets, such as remainder bins in large retail stores. Small-scale booksellers had to diversify to survive, often offering magazines, prints, stationery, art supplies, and gift items. Some booksellers built customer loyalty by organizing neighborhood reading clubs and discussion groups, but these efforts were difficult to sustain. Small bookshops were the weak link in the system, ordering too little stock, carrying too many books on credit, and slowing sales and cash flow."

Same as it ever was. And now we're headed back to BookExpo. Handselling and handwringing will continue unabated, and we'll talk it all out once again with our eyes on the digital horizon.

Enjoy the ride anyway. How can we possibly resist the temptation to yell "Woooooooo-hooooooo," whether we're plummeting like Icarus, or just skydiving while waiting for the parachutes to deploy?--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now

painting by Timothy Vermeulen

The Bestsellers

Bestsellers at City Lights Books

The current top 10 bestselling paperbacks and hardcovers at City Lights Books, San Francisco, Calif., are:


  1. Antwerp by Roberto Bolaño (New Directions)
  2. Solar by Ian McEwan (Doubleday)
  3. Book of Genesis by R. Crumb (Norton)
  4. You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier (Random/Knopf)
  5. What We Are by Peter Nathaniel Malae (Grove)
  6. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (Atlantic Monthly)
  7. Naked Lunch 50th Anniversary Edition by William S. Burroughs (Grove)
  8. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia (HarperCollins)
  9. Windward Passage by Jim Nisbet (Overlook)
  10. City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley (St. Martin's)


  1. And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks: A Novel by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs (Grove)
  2. New World of Indigenous Resistence by Noam Chomsky (City Lights)
  3. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (Random House)
  4. Writing the Silences by Richard O. Moore (University of California Press)
  5. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (Simon)
  6. How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer (Houghton Mifflin)
  7. Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan (Penguin)
  8. Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk by Tony Dushane (Counterpoint)
  9. Absence of the Hero by Charles Bukowski (City Lights)
  10. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Random/Knopf)



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